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e-money: Banking through biometrics

this message entered the list on Tue, 20 Oct 1998 17:46:24 +0200 (MET DST)
it has been sent by Yursa Mistifi

Banking through biometrics

Authentification techniques based on distinctive human body features are now
being tested to certify transactions. Biometrics as a field of research is
derived from artificial intelligence and measurement of biological
particularities to assume tremendous evolutions in the domain of security.
Originally developed by the army, biometric technologies enable electronic
systems to recognise a person by using her previously digitized physical
parameters. Passwords become useless because the machine just exercises a
close look on you to deny access or to let you interact. Authentification
techniques relying on biometrics also seem to be more secure: the probability
to find a password of four digits is one out of ten thousand, the probability
of confusion raising from eye exploration is one out of ten billions.

In Swindon, UK, the National Building Society bank has began to serve
customers with a new model of ATM (automatic teller machine) using iris
recognition. Developed in the US by NCR together with IriScan (1) and
Sensar (2), the automatic lenses of the system zoom on the characteristics of
the Iris in the customer's eyes before allowing him to withdraw banknotes. The
whole operation takes less than two seconds. Biometric systems can identify
different parts of the body: retina, shape of the hand, fingerprints, face
voice analyses are used for recognition. Also the characteristics of one's
movements can be referred to as elements of discrimination. The Smartpen (3)
of the Dutch company LCI analyses and compares digital signatures. It's
sensors react to acceleration, speed, force and inclination of the human hand
signing a document with an error rate satisfying the military requirements.

Verification that the presenter of a bank card is actually the person entitled
to use it is made through automatic assessment of an unique body feature or
personal action that can be measured, digized, stored and recalled later
for comparison. In the US, Chase Manhattan bank (4) decided to use voice
verification for customer identification following a review of several types
of biometric techniques. The research found that 95% of customers would accept
voice verification, compared with 80% accepting fingerprint. Another reason
Chase Manhattan chose voice over fingerprints was that voice works over a
normal telephone whereas special readers would have to be installed in
consumers' homes for fingerprint verification. Other banks reportedly testing
or using biometric systems are Bank of America, Citicorp, Mellon Bank, Bankers
Trust, and Chevy Chase. Biometric applications also provide powerful tools
for surveillance and security in computer controlled environments: physical
access control, fraud time, attendance recording. Research projects
include contact key for cars or automatic ticket delivery at underground

The industry is ready to look forward that the numerous possible applications
of biometrics will sooner or later become reality. The technique has been
tested, business plans are made but the human factor remains a largely
unpredictable parameter. As a matter of fact, biometrics could deeply modify
the perception that individuals have of themselves. Because it stands for a so
to say objective definition of identity, biometrics intend to isolate the
slightest difference between individuals. Compared with the practice of
entomologists at the beginning of the century, it does not tend to classify or
to group people by class or by genre. Instead of underlining the adherence to
a group, biometrics refers to uniqueness as deriving from the irremediable
singularity of each living body. Biometric could then possibly lead to
tremendous loneliness. Once the criteria of uniqueness is not anymore
dependent from social or psychological values, a man can be considered as pure
biological determination with no respect to personal activities or subjective

Biometric systems can as well be regarded as violent considering their lack of
flexibility and adaptiveness. The submission to the identification process
puts stress on people who dread possible failures. Besides, the penetrating look 
of the iris scan could be perceived as threatening to those who believe the
machine really "sees" them. As in other cases of supposedly legitimate control
of the human body (urine, hair, blood and dna-tests), the impression prevails
that individuals have no moral rights on the definition of their identity.
Scientific criteria become predominant because they generate the objective
and static data requested for computer identification. But at the same time
the possibility of another identity, a subjective and dynamic one, is losing
ground. Biometrics definitivly shed a renewed light over Rimbaud's assertion
"je est un autre".


yursa mistifi

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